Friday, March 20, 2009

I'll Take It

This week, my grandmother shuffled off this mortal coil. She was 78, mean, and one of the people I have most adored in my life.

I left Seattle and our whirlwind new life of doctor's and teacher's appointments, meetings with specialists and new diet regimens. My mother and I descended upon Grandma's double wide trailer in Onalaska, WA, to make some sense of what she'd left behind and feel if her spirit was still hanging around.

It wasn't. (For this I was glad. It would be totally in her character to haunt a thirty-year-old trailer with nicotine-stained ceilings rather than move onto celestial bliss. If I had felt her there, I would have shouted at her to GET AN AFTERLIFE, ALREADY.)

I unrolled flannel packets of tarnished silverware and marvelled at the daintiness and uselessness of the pieces. Grandma had packed away at least four silver sugar spoons. There was an olive spear. Seafood forks. Dozens of butter knives. A spoon made for easily scooping relish out of a jar and onto one's plate. At one point, I had unpacked half a drawer of silver and had it spread out over the dining room table in front of me in all of its anachronistic glory.

"Why did she have all this shit?" I asked my mom.

She looked up from Grandma's desk, where she was feeding fifteen-year-old power bills into the shredder.

"Some of it was Ba Ba Bessie's and Grandma Gayle's and Grandpa Ralph's. Oh, Honey, she loved to hold a proper Christmas dinner. We had some big Christmas dinners when we were kids, with all the china and the crystal and the silver. She kept it all these years I guess because she was a pack rat. And no one else wanted it."

I wanted it. I loved that she knew so much about the uses of curved bone plates, salt cellars, fish servers, pie servers, and cream pitchers. She could tell the difference between a mustard jar and a celery holder. She had, and used until very recently, crystal dishes made specifically for serving bunches of whole green onions. She enjoyed the gentility such items brought to a table, even to one's person; I know this because of the way she softened and brightened when she talked about them to me. Where she learned all of this is a mystery, but knowing about it, and amassing collections of it, brought dignity into her life.

So, even though I have nowhere to put the silver, I packed it all in a paper shopping bag and loaded in into the back of my car. It's now sitting in a heap of dirty flannel on my kitchen island, awaiting silver polish. (Which of course I do not own.)

Perhaps, since Grandma made us promise not to give her a funeral, I will hold a dinner in her honor.

I'll use every last relish spoon.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Don't Even Think About Reflecting

Monday brought the promise of Regular Life. School, carpool, yoga classes, teaching, cooking, maybe a few moments for reflection and writing...

...and God said, HA!

"I want to talk to you about Jonah," said my son's teacher one afternoon as I helped her tidy up the classroom. "There are some strong indicators that he may be on the autism spectrum."

Really. I called a friend who has an autistic child, and she said, "No way."

I spoke to Jonah's occupational therapist and she said, "No way."

I called Jonah's pediatrician. The girl at the front desk didn't want to schedule an appointment. "Let me have her call you."

Missed the call while talking to the occupational therapist. Oh, she'll be back next week.

Interviewed with a Waldorf school for Jonah. Felt myself melt when their response to our report of Jonah's unique characteristics was this: "All of that is okay. That's what we support here. This is a healing program."

Unable to control myself, I started to cry.

"Here's a tissue," they said.

I called the pediatrician again to schedule an in-office appointment.

Now we wait to test our child. Is he okay? Is he not okay? What can we do to help him? Will switching to a more suitable school make the difference that we think it will? Will he ever learn to write properly? How could we have been managing this differently had we known there was a real problem and not just a "delay"? Is every day that he goes to his regular, chaotic, fast-paced school damaging him further?

Shit, I need to go for a walk. Maybe I'll take the do-


RRRRRING! Can you sub two classes for me today? RRRRING! Can you sub for me for four days on Whidbey Island? RRRRING! The doctor needs to reschedule that appointment. We need your help with the school auction. Can we meet after school with special ed teacher?

Last night I crawled into the futon bed in the attic and cried until I fell asleep. I hated to do it. It smacked of the Old Depression Days, when this was my default behavior, but there was no way around it. I was saturated.

Today I am reading a book called The Out of Sync Child, because a few people have floated the idea that Jonah may be coping with something called Sensory Processing Disorder. And I keep crying. If only we'd known earlier!

When will we be able to find some clarity? My mind being what it is, I can't do anything properly right now. This morning I tried to load some dishes into the garbage.

All I can do is say no to any requests that come into my life right now unless they have to do with schools and Jonah. I have to slow down. I have to watch my child carefully, give him extra tenderness and space to be himself. I have to hope that stuff will stop happening.

'Cause I'm dealing with Emotional Integration Disorder.

Wham! Blam! Kapow!

The day Ada died, I had two more hours of the Anusara workshop to do. Heaven knows I'm committed to my yoga, but there are limits.

Still, one of my teachers had asked me to teach two of her classes that night. I'd said yes the day before, before I'd known that my dog was sick.

So, at a certain point in the afternoon, I wiped my tears, squeezed into yoga clothes, and went to teach two classes.

Teaching in the studio where I'd been a student for eleven years felt almost forbidden. I kept thinking, Is this allowed? Am I really supposed to be up here in the front of the room? Jake, one of the students in the second class (which had been my class for several years until recently), looked at me as he unrolled his mat and said, "Are you teaching tonight?"

"Yep!" I said.

Another student from the back of the room added, cautiously, "Have you done this before?"

I laughed. "Yes."

I led the students safely through poses, I challenged their bodies, I cracked jokes and made references to the German yoga teacher I'd had in Mexico whose mantra was, "Hold za poose, doon't hold za breath."

And then I went home and thought, Oh my God, I just taught at Seattle Yoga Arts! Oh, my God, my body is in such pain from the workshop! Oh my God, my poor dog is dead!

I wanted to think about it all, to write about it all, but instead I fell dead sleep.

Goodnight, Ada

My dog didn't make it. She was doomed by a tumor that had ruptured. From the moment she had started acting sick, her little soul was already aiming for Dog Heaven.

For a few days I kept the yellow quilt in a wad on the couch. It was the last thing she'd touched. It bristled with black dog hairs. I curled around it and squeezed it and tried to find a last drop of her life in it. I couldn't rouse myself to start putting her things away, even though her dog bed and plastic bags and toys still took up space in the back of the station wagon.

Then one day, Jonah said, sadly, "Mommy, can we please put Ada's bowls away?"

"Yes," I said, and immediately washed them and put them away.

The way we move through hard times, no matter how much we may resist this, is little by little. After I washed the bowls, a few days later I washed her bed. Finally, after I began to feel silly about keeing it around, I washed the yellow quilt.

Now Audrey is using it in her imaginary games of islands and castles and Peter Pan. Once, we stopped in the middle of playing and looked sadly at the quilt.

"This was my baby blanket," I told Audrey. We gazed at the little cut-outs of blobby, star-shaped figures that my great-grandmother had sewn onto the yellow fabric thirty-something years ago. "But this is also the blanket we took Ada to the vet in when she got sick."

"I miss Ada," Audrey said in a tiny voice.

"Me, too." I lay down on the blanket and pressed my cheek against it. "I wonder if some little bit of her spirit is left in here."

Audrey lay down, too. "I think I hear something," she said.

"We miss you, Girl," I said into the blanket.

"We love you, Ada," Audrey said into the blanket.

Goodnight, Ada.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Forces of Nature, Part III

At six a.m. on the second morning of the John Friend workshop, I awoke to the sound of my dog falling down the stairs. The slip and crunch of claws and bone was unmistakable. With much wincing (ooh, the hamstrings, eesh, the triceps), I descended the stairs to find Ada, our agile and chipper border collie mix, limping aimlessly in the hall. She minced over to the living room, where she lay down between two pieces of furniture and commenced to breathe short, raspy breaths.

Matt and I made arrangements for him to take Ada to the vet while I went to the morning Anusara workshop. Before I left, we wrapped Ada in a small yellow quilt and loaded her into the back of the station wagon.

"I'll call you at the first break," I said to Matt, and took one last look at the dog. She was lying stiffly in the position we'd placed her. She looked terrible. This was really happening; I might be saying goodbye for the last time.

At the workshop, our theme was gratitude for our teachers. We were supposed to be thinking of them and praying for them and remembering all they had done for us. Instead, I kept thinking of my dog. When John said, "Remember that time when you needed your teacher and she was there without judgment for you," I thought of Ada.

I had complex feelings around my dog. I'd made a lot of my first parenting mistakes with her. I'd also never been so devoted to any living creature as I was to her in her early years.

But children happened, and a new career happened, and a bigger house and more demands on my time and attention. Over time she really became the lowest person on the totem pole. And sometimes, worse than that, I saw her as a nuisance. We no longer had a lifestyle that supported the needs of a high-maintenance working dog. There simply wasn't space in our life for daily hour-long walks, frequent trips to the off-leash park, agility classes, etc. I felt sad for her, because her potential was being squandered.

She had gotten fat and a little despondent. That was entirely our fault.

But back to the yoga workshop. John was talking about the power of being present. "You must be present to win!" he said. All 200 of us laughed. I was present.

I was present with my dying dog.